Bringing 50,000 people to Enumclaw for a four-day event – and, even more daunting, perhaps as many as 100,000 – requires endless hours of advance planning.
No one is more aware of that fact than Keith Mathews, the driving force behind the successful effort to bring The Moving Wall to the Plateau. Originally planned for a 2020 stop in Enumclaw, the appearance was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic but is now slated for this summer, Aug. 5-8.
The wall is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that has stood since 1982 in Washington, D.C. The memorial honors the 58,000-plus American men and women who lost their lives during the Vietnam War.
The memorial will sit on the large, grassy area between Sunrise and Southwood elementary schools, where Mount Rainier will provide an awe-inspiring backdrop. Mathews is quick to note the level of cooperation shown by the Enumclaw School District, which is closing off the large field – and some adjacent areas – to allow for parking.
Arranging for all those motorists is just one of the myriad details that go into a Moving Wall visit, Mathews said, adding that he spends at least four hours every day figuring out the logistics behind such an effort. And he’s been working on bringing the memorial to Enumclaw for at least six years.
The crowds coming to Enumclaw to visit the memorial will undoubtedly be swelled due to the fact that it’s one of only two Moving Wall appearances in the Pacific Northwest. A stop in Chelan, Washington, was cancelled, as was a visit to Oregon. The only other regional stop will be July 15-19 in Newport, Washington, a small community north of Spokane.
“I wasn’t going to cancel for any reason,” Mathews said.
As an aside, Mathews admits he was pressured a bit to plan the Moving Wall exhibit in Seattle. But that wasn’t going to happen, he said, stating a firm desire to see the memorial on the Plateau.
The Moving Wall’s time in Enumclaw will be sandwiched between stops in Ohio and Nebraska.
The entire effort wouldn’t be possible, Mathews explained, without two things: the first is volunteer support, such as that shown by the school district and the city of Enumclaw; the second crucial element is money, he said, adding that bringing The Moving Wall to the Plateau requires an investment that will likely land somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000. The travel cost alone, plus set-up, is $8,000, he added.
The financial factor is being addressed through contributions by supporters, Mathews said. He’s still looking to reach his goal and is gladly accepting donations (anyone wishing to contribute can mail a donation to VFW Post 1949, P.O. Box 14, Enumclaw 99022). The local Veterans of Foreign Wars organization is footing the bill for the four-day event.
During its stay in Enumclaw, Mathews said, the Moving Wall will be open to the public 24 hours a day. There will be lighting at night and ceremonies every morning. The Moving Wall is known to stir strong emotions and some visitors ask for private time; for that reason, Matthews said, local organizers will arrange special visits for veterans and their families.
Evening security will be provided by the Army National Guard and members of the special forces stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, as well as local VFW members. Regarding the nighttime security, Mathews acknowledged The Moving Wall has, on occasion, been the target of vandalism.
Mathews said part of the local presentation will honor Enumclaw men who were killed in Vietnam. That list includes: Donnie Biarum, Gerald Steven Hasen, Larry Joe Malatesta, Jefery Allan Schweikl, William Fred Soule, Michael Allen Hawk, Thomas Richard Okerlund, Harry Allen Petersen and Donald Freeman Baysinger.
Anyone wishing to add additional names or provide other information can contact Mathews by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
MEN’S CHORALE TO PERFORM
One of the additions to the Moving Wall’s stay will be participation by the men’s choir from Wabash Church, a group that counts between 15 and 20 members and has been highlighting Wabash services for more than three decades.
To make the choir’s appearance even stronger, additional male voices are being sought both through the Plateau Ministerial Association and the community at large.
The choir will sing during the Sunday service (Aug. 7) which begins at 10 a.m. and will include a chaplain who served in Vietnam.
The deadline for getting involved in the choir is drawing close, as rehearsals will soon begin. Anyone interested in joining is encouraged to email Stets Stetson at email@example.com or call Sally Sharick at 360-825-3859.
SOME MOVING WALL DETAILS
The Moving Wall stands 6 feet tall at the center and gradually tapers to 4-foot panels at each end. The structure consists of two walls, each being 126.2 feet in length, for a total length of 252.4 feet. That’s half the size of the D.C. memorial and nearly the length of a football field.
The Moving Wall is now made of aluminum panels. The original Plexiglas panel and wood-framed structure was retired after the 1986 season and was replaced by Formica-laminated masonite panels and steel tubular framing. However, the varied and often severe weather conditions proved too harsh for the laminated panels and both structures were completely rebuilt at the end of 1988.
The Moving Wall is engraved with the names of 58,228 Americans who died during the Vietnam War, with the final three added in May 2002. The war is generally considered to have been fought from late 1955 until the fall of Saigon at the end of April 1975, eventually spreading through several countries of Southeast Asia.
THE STORY BEHIND THE MOVING WALL
The story begins in 1982 when John Devitt attended the dedication Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and departed vowing to share the experience with those who did not have the opportunity to visit the nation’s capitol.
He and other Vietnam veterans built The Moving Wall, which went on display for the first time in Tyler, Texas, in October 1984.
A second Moving Wall was built in the late 1980s and, due to high demand, a third was built in 1995. One has been retired and is on permanent display while the other two travel the United States from April through November, spending about a week at each site.